The new mysterious thriller from Netflix, The Wonder, is now streaming, but should you give it a watch?
Set in The Irish Midlands in 1862, The Wonder follows English nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh), who is brought to a tiny village to observe young Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy) on claims that she has not eaten in the past four months since her 11th birthday. As she remains miraculously alive and well, Nurse Wright must suss out if this community is harboring a new saint or if they are covering up the unholy truth.
Alongside Pugh & Cassidy, the film stars Mank’s Tom Burke as journalist Will Byrne, Captain America’s Toby Jones as Dr. McBrearty, Belfast’s Ciaran Hinds as Father Thaddeus, Doubt’s Brian F. O’Byrne as John Flynn, & Kila Lord Cassidy’s real-life mother Elaine Cassidy as Anna’s mother, Rosaleen O’Donnell.
Based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donahue, the film reunites screenwriter Alice Birch with lead Florence Pugh, who previously worked on the BAFTA-nominated Lady Macbeth in 2017.
At the crux of Sebastian Lelio’s methodical & mesmerizing drama is a classic battle for the soul between science and faith.
The nurse, the journalist, and the decaying child on one side; the priest, the devout family, & the “miracle” child on the other. Skepticism vs Belief. Even with a medical professional at the center, the story plays out like many investigative crime dramas, interrogating the facts until the ultimate truth presents itself. However, the truth is not always welcome, and the facts can be distorted.
From the film’s opening scenes, we are told very directly about the importance of stories and, most notably, the stories we tell ourselves. Every tortured character within has carefully altered their realities to fit their surroundings. Nurse Lib hides the sorrow and shame of her husband’s departure after the death of their baby by telling people she’s a widow and coping with drugs. Anna’s family uses piety & devotion to cover their dark misdeeds & rationalizations. The men of the committee formed to access Anna’s gifts hide their leanings behind due process. The journalist Will buries the tremendous loss of his entire family during the famine and their ties to Anna’s community to appear as a curious outsider unphased by the possibility of a saint living among them. Everyone is selling a story and everyone wishes they could be someone else or something else. It makes complete sense why the film would end with a new story beginning and a clean slate for those who remain with us.
The tone of Lelio’s puzzle box is haunting and gripping with strong, palpable performances. Kila Lord Cassidy is unflinching as Anna; devout by force, at war with her convictions, and tortured by her family’s secrets & manipulations. Her calm presence, icy stare, and breathy prayer recitings create an aura of believability in her impossible circumstances. Of course, the movie doesn’t work without the gravity of Florence Pugh. She is the barometer for all that we feel in the film. Her cold & calculated persona in the earlier parts of the film set the mood for the more exploratory measures, but subtly gives way as the story progresses into a more anxious & frantic conclusion. Even the score for the film acts as its own character in many ways as its foreboding and ominous presence, especially in our earliest encounters with Anna, creates a chilling atmosphere to match the mystery & skepticism around religious miracles.
The one major flaw with the film is the use of the completely unnecessary fourth wall breaks that attempt to serve the belief in stories narrative. While I understand the nature of these breaks, I feel they took me out of film at crucial times and almost derailed my enjoyment of the film. In fact, when the film starts in a fourth wall break, I had the strong compulsion to turn it off. However, as you can probably deduce, I am glad that I stuck with the film, but strongly wish that Lelio had removed these breaks from a largely successful & effective creation.
Overall, The Wonder clears the major hurdle of its needless narrations to produce one of the best Netflix Originals of the year.
Slowly peeling back the layers of uncertainty & mysticism, the film becomes a tense yet enjoyable parable about the risks of faith without interrogation and the use of stories to hide our true selves and, potentially, our darkest secrets. I would encourage people to shed the noise around Don’t Worry Darling and enjoy the blossoming stardom of Florence Pugh in a subtle yet commanding performance that shows off her full range.
Watch The Wonder on Netflix If You Like
- The Magdalene Sisters
- The Devil All The Time
- Lady Macbeth
- Little Women
MVP of The Wonder on Netflix
Kila Lord Cassidy as Anna O’Donnell.
For a young performer with very little credits, this is an incredible breakout performance. From unwavering devotion to God & family to the fear of death & betrayal, Cassidy runs the gamut in a role that the movie needs to be impressive to work.
PLAY, PAUSE, OR STOP?:
A psychological thriller wrapped around the dangers of toxic religious devotion is a fertile ground that brings the best out of its director and lead actresses.